This is my week to crow -- not to warble, but to eat.
It is obligatory when you're in the fault-finding business to do unto yourself as you would unto others. So, a quick look at sins of the past.
Yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of the free world's assault on Hitler's fortress Europe. I marked the event several weeks ago when I wrote a column about Gen. Maxwell Taylor, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, which spearheaded the great invasion. I said Gen. Taylor was the first one out the door over Normandy.
Why couldn't I have written that he parachuted and let it go at that? No, the fact that he was first would add a little zest and authenticity. Turns out he was second, not first. His jumpmaster, 25-year-old Maj. Larry Legere, was first. Dr. Laurence Legere is now representing his country at NATO, and you better believe I heard from him.
Chagrined, I wrote a column attempting to set the record straight. To give the correction a little pizazz, I gratuitously added some lyrical language. It was not my intention to rewrite history, just a gesture to an old friend. Here's the sentence: "So let it be said here that Maj. Larry Legere, severely wounded even before the sun rose that morning, was the first of the Allied warriors to touch French soil in the greatest of all military invasions."
There is nothing more humiliating than to have to correct a correction.
A former member of the 439th Troop Carrier Group had this to say: "History is a stern mistress and the historical truth must be served. No one knows for sure who the first Allied soldier was, but it wasn't Gen. Taylor, Maj. Legere, or your correspondent friend, Reuben -- very brave men, indeed, but with all due respect. . . . "
Several others who participated in this historic event suggested the honor of "first" should probably go to an American captain followed by a lieutenant, who were called "pathfinders" of the 101st. "They went out the door at 0015 6 June 1944," wrote one former warrior. That would have put them on French soil about an hour before the rest of the division. Five minutes later, apparently, a British captain, also a pathfinder, leaped from another plane to guide in the British paratroopers.
I dare not mention the names of any of these men. In fact, I should have known better than to make so casual a reference to anyone being "first." I've been burned before. As a civilian war correspondent -- same war -- I accompanied the 11th Airborne Division, which spearheaded the Allied occupation of Japan.
Before the dawn departure from Okinawa, I left my "hold-for-release" story with the military censor, not to be transmitted until the 11th had safely landed in Tokyo and secured the area.
It was a good story. Those "firsts" are always good stories. You know -- I'd landed with "the first Allied warriors to touch the soil of the Japanese homeland."
Our troop transport braked to a halt on the runway at Atsugi, and I scrambled out of the plane. There were a lot of Japanese there eager to make us feel welcome. But what caught my eye was a U.S. Navy fighter plane. Standing near it was a grinning lieutenant.
Furious, I asked who gave him the authority to land. "It was an emergency landing, pal," he said. "Couldn't have made it back to the boat."
I'm not sure my correction, amid all the chaos, ever caught up with my original story, but it may be just as well. Somewhere in Japan, I have a feeling there were other Navy pilots who set themselves up as welcoming parties to greet Gen. MacArthur's legions. So much for history.
While I'm at it, I may as well clean the slate of another gaffe closer to home.
In another column, I chided editors at The Post for not giving sufficient prominence to official confirmation of a report that two Saudi F15 fighters refused a U.S. request to intercept the Iraqi fighter that had savaged the USS Stark. Mortified, embarrassed, I learned that the White House spokesman was confirming a front-page exclusive story in The Post the day before, written by George Wilson, who rightfully called it to my attention.
It was reassuring to know that The Post's chief military correspondent did not let his awe of the ombudsman inhibit him from pointing out the error.